Animal Life and Sentience

We affirm the beauty and wisdom of God revealed in non-human animals. We affirm their ability to think, feel and live in relationship with humans and one another – yet also to suffer.

Western society has long treated animals as unfeeling machines, as mere commodities. This reaches its climax in today’s factory farms.

Followers of the Prince of Peace, we commit to take animal life, happiness and suffering more seriously in our own dietary choices, both as individuals and communities. We commit to campaign against injustice and cruelty wherever it takes place, raising our voice for those who have none.


Thesis Background
Every year, 70 billion land animals are killed for human consumption[1]. A staggering 60 million animals are killed every hour around the world[2]. Globally, 2/3 of agricultural animals are ‘factory farmed’[3]. They live in tight, cramped conditions, with little or no access to the outside. Many are subject to painful ‘mutilations’ like beak-clipping and tail-docking, often without anaesthetic. These mutilations are only necessary due to the cramped conditions the animals are kept in. This is going on every day, yet mostly it happens behind closed doors. In the US, several recent “ag-gag” laws restrict public access to farm sites. This leaves many with the impression that the animal industry has something to hide, as is regularly confirmed in hidden camera operations by animal advocacy groups. The situation is better in the EU, but leaves much to be desired. Many cases of sadistic abuse of farmed animals have been recorded on UK farms in recent years, and the following practices are common on EU farms[4]: • Keeping 17 chickens per m2 ([5]) • 6 million EU veal calves, ‘the vast majority’ in confined, strawless cages • 40 million male chicks are shredded alive in Britain each year[6] • 50% of European dairy cows go lame in any one year, due to overfeeding and lack of exercise. --> I recently graduated in Geography from Cambridge University. Before that, I did a DTS with YWAM, and I’m now preparing for longer-term evangelistic mission in Europe. I’ve been vegan for 2 years, convinced that the church has a responsibility to act on animal ethics issues. We’re at a moment of rapid change in society regarding animal ethics, and it’s time for the church to take the lead and live out the prophet’s vision – “the wolf will lay down with the lamb – they will neither hurt not destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6). [1] The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW), 2014 Report, page 42, http://www.bbfaw.com/media/1054/bbfaw_2014_report.pdf (16:59, 12/07/16); [2] Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), Strategic Plan, 2013-7: For Kinder, Fairer Farming Worldwide, p2 http://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3640540/ciwf_strategic_plan_20132017.pdf (16:43, 07/07/16) [3] BBFAW, 2014 Report, page 42, http://www.bbfaw.com/media/1054/bbfaw_2014_report.pdf (16:59, 12/07/16) [4] CIWF, Strategic Plan, 2013-7: For Kinder, Fairer Farming Worldwide; Pye-Smith, C. (2003), Batteries Not Included; [5] de Castella, T., ‘Do people know where their chicken comes from?’, BBC [Online], 23/10/14, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29219843 (15:49, 28/07/16) [6] Gray, L., ’40 million chicks on ‘conveyor belt to death’’, 04/11/10, Telegraph [Online], http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/earthnews/8107957/40-million-chicks-on-conveyor-belt-to-death.html(15:41, 28/07/16)

9 comments

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  • Tim, I'm interested, would you be morally against ever harming animals for human benefit (food, milk, clothing) or is is just modern factory conditions and the treatment of animals as commodities that you object to?
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      Hey Charlee :) Good question. Personally, I'm against all consumption animal products, though I think the extent to which that is possible varies from one society to another. What I do know is that today in the West it is possible for most people to live happy, healthy lives without eating animal products. I think this is more like how God intended us to live (eg. humans are not given the right to eat animals in Eden - it's only in Ch9 of Genesis that this right comes, after 7 chapters of fall, chaos and escalating violence. Many theologians have understood this more as a concession to human fallenness, rather than as God's original intention!). I don't think the Bible tells us to be veggie or vegan! One only has to look at Paul, Peter or indeed Jesus to see that! However, I do think that the kind of questions raised by the Biblical narrative, and in particular the compassionate, gentle, non-violent ethic of Jesus, push us to really think hard about what we eat. I reckon the Spirit will move more and more of us to go veggie and vegan in the coming decades, as this becomes more and more possible, and as we the church move closer and closer to Christ's heart of compassion and mercy for all living things. What do you think? :)
      • This thread is sure giving me a lot to think about! I've been transitioning to vegetarian over the last two years for ethical and environmental reasons, but I've often felt a little awkward about advocating being a veggie/vegan for animal rights reasons because I was (and still am) concerned about forcing Western sensibilities on the rest of the world. Particularly when it upsets me to see so many vegetarians using high air-mile/ environmental impact ingredients in their diet (quinoa, avocado etc). I've never considered the Genesis argument before, but rather assumed human beings can eat meat in a way that's less harmful, more thankful and places higher value on animal life- but maybe that's contradictory! 
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      (I'd add that I've deliberately tried to word this post so that anyone can get behind it, whether meat-eating, veggie, vegan or anything in between! I think it's important to have the discussion about animal products / ethics in general, but this thesis is trying to be as broad as poss - please suggest any edits that are needed to make it so!!!) 
      • I really appreciate how you've worded the thesis, Tim. My wife and I are currently doing our best to eat meat (ethically, locally sourced) only once (or less) per week as we try to "transition" a bit, so we're not quite veggies yet... I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, but a new one has come up recently which I want to ask both of you. John 21:9-14 gives an interesting account about a "fish breakfast on the beach" (fish for BREAKFAST? eww!) Given that some Bible scholars and Christian thinkers like to refer to Jesus' post-resurrection activity as a sort of paradigm for what life could/should be like (and perhaps what our "new bodies" will be like), what might we make of this passage where Jesus is at the least endorsing the consumption of fish?? Perhaps this is a conversation that's already been had somewhere. If so, I'd love to learn more about it!
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        Hey Calum :) Awesome that you guys have cut down on meat... the impact of cutting down meat even a modest amount can be huuuuge for both animal welfare and the environment! That's pretty cool :) re Jesus eating fish... yes a question that comes up a lot! Not read loads on it, but I know people have written on it. 2 things! 1) I wouldn't describe eating animals as a 'sin' as such... I'd say that for most of history, most people have had to eat some level of meat/fish/dairy to survive. I think that is a sad reflection on the fallenness of the world and therefore 'the natural order of things' (cf Romans 8 in particular on this!), and though not 'how God intended it', a kind of 'compromise for the moment'. It's clear that, in the parameters of this vastly imperfect and complicated world, God has given us license to eat meat (eg. Noahide covenant, which, even if in some sense a compromise is nonetheless a licence). So I think Jesus is doing what lots of humans in lots of cultures have done - eating meat as part of his diet. But he's still in the finite world... maybe he won't eat fish when human culture + society is completely liberated from that need. 2) More importantly, I think this is about "what the gospel is". Clearly, the gospel has social implications! (Thank goodness that theological argument generally has been won in Western churches now!). However, the gospel *itself*, implications aside, has to be *incredibly simple*, and has to speak *directly* to humanity's core problems, core diseases. One of these 'core diseases', as unpacked in the NT, is the tendency to legalism and judgmentalism. The gospel speaks directly to this, because it is universal rather than culturally specific. If Jesus rocks up and is a vegan, he would automatically take the emphasis away from *the core thing*, which is the liberating, simple, universal truth of the gospel, work-out-able in every culture at any time. For some cultures which have depended on meat (eg. pastoral societies in East Africa, fishing-based societies on Mekong Delta), this would create the following situation: gospel acceptance --> complete destruction of community livelihood. Further, it would detract from the *heart* emphasis by putting the focus on an *external* rather than an *internal heart issue* (and we all know how bad the church is at making that mistake even without Jesus telling us all to be vegan!!!). So, a very long comment to say what exactly...? I think this: Jesus leaves lots of things unsaid in his gospel ministry. He treats women well, but doesn't tell us to radically address patriarchy (but I think we should). He treats foreigners and slaves/servants well, but he doesn't tell us to end slavery there and then (but I think he always wanted us to). And the list could go on... the point is that his teaching inevitably and inexorably leads his people, over time, to make radical, liberating and sacrificial commitments to social justice projects and ideals not envisaged in Nazareth's 1st Century culture, but which, when you look back at it, were an obvious application of Jesus' basic teaching all along... does that make sense? :) 
      • Sorry it has taken me so long to respond... Your comment was superb and I think it makes a great deal of sense! Thank you. It plays into something I'm wrestling with currently--namely the reality that the Gospel IS simple and able to be understood by everyone, but never in a way that allows us to be too comfortable, complacent, or uncritical/unreflective. In other words, the Gospel is simple but not EASY. But now we are on a very different topic :)
  • Fantastic. Thanks for this, Tim. The verse about 'not muzzling an ox while it is treading out the grain' (Deut. 25:4) is not just a random insertion. It acts as a barometer of the social conditions and issues discussed in preceding verses!
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      Thanks Calum! Great verse - have just looked it up. Interesting connection with the preceding verses, I'd never spotted that link before. That 'barometer' thing is interesting -  the way we treat animals reflects how we treat humans, and vice versa (which is actually a point that a lot of animal advocates make today, just in different words!).